Posted by: mmreflections | November 15, 2011

Spiritual Poverty November 2011

Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to know the things which God has prepared for those who love him.(Confer 1Corinthians 2:9))

Yesterday I heard the news that a boyhood friend of mine had died.  I had visited him at a rehab center when I was back East in August.  He was in great spirits and our short time together was a blessing as we brought each other up to date on what was happening in our lives.  When I awoke this morning my thoughts carried me back to those childhood days when he and I, along with his younger brother, were scampering along the coal banks near the small mining town where he lived.  With not a care in the world we were just enjoying life, enjoying each other and that special youthful moment. Many boyhood friends are gone now, leaving behind many other childhood memories.  Now in these golden years of life it seems there are fewer dreams and many more wonderful memories.

This morning I wondered what it will be like when we meet again in the new life awaiting us.  I totally believe and am confident that we will meet again in the afterlife.  I am convinced that this mysterious moment we call death is merely a rest at the end of our life’s journey, a passing from the visible to the invisible, the prelude into a new life.  I look forward to seeing my mom and dad, my brothers and sisters, all the friends from my journey and all those whose lives impacted or were impacted by mine.  This is my hope!  As human beings we are confronted with two major aspects on our life’s journey.  One is death; the other is the hope that death is not the end but only a new beginning.  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

What will our new life be like?  Who knows?  Who is to say?  We can only hope it will truly be more than we can ever imagine.  “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.  He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)  All things will be made right.  Reflecting on this passage from the Book of Revelation, I realize this is certainly not a description of our daily lives even if we were following the teachings of Jesus perfectly.  Using our imaginations, however, we might understand how the lessons of Jesus responded to this question of the new life.  Let us imagine what we hope for most in our life right now!  Let us imagine our wildest dreams!  Let us imagine our greatest fantasies!  Let us imagine exhausting every possible delight!  When we finally exhaust all possibilities of what our new life will be like, this is where the plans emanating from the love of God begin!  I believe Saint Paul was trying to describe this when he remarks that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to realize what God has prepared for us.  (Read 1 Corinthians 2:9)

The dilemma which faces many who even think about these matters is a most challenging one.  There is something about our human nature which demands a price for everything.  “What must I do to inherit this eternal life,” is the question that has been passed down through the ages.  The question carries with it a type of arrogance.  If we think we can ever earn this gift we may easily end up in despair.  Losing all hope in eternal life we may try to create a heaven of our own making by grasping for more treasures here on earth for the purpose of greater security, or we may pursue careers sure to give us fame or power over others.  On the other hand we may strive for greater spiritual gifts, leading to a preoccupation with perfectionism and religiosity. We end up becoming like the Pharisee, boasting of all the “good deeds” we are performing while judging others harshly.  Our contemporary culture is breeding these opposing pathways and we can easily succumb to them.   Where do we turn?

One of the first lessons taught by Jesus is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) The poor in spirit are those who know who they are.   As hard as it may be for many of us to accept, we have to admit we can do nothing to receive such a great gift.  We are really very poor!  We need to admit and embrace our poverty.  With all my best efforts and with my less than best efforts over the seventy-seven years of my life, failure to live the life I feel called to live still eludes me.  Only a power greater than myself can save me.  Just when I think I am getting my act together, something happens that causes me to fall flat on my face, forcing me to take a second look at myself and my failures.  These setbacks can easily detract me from acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly before God.  Many times over my life’s journey I have prayed for help in giving up false images of God, I prayed that idols I have set up over a lifetime could be exposed and shattered, I prayed to be free from the dead past or the imagined future, I prayed to be free from the prison and chains of fear, shame, guilt, anxieties, worries, confusion and doubts.  I am finally learning to embrace all these shadows, realizing this is what keeps me relying upon the Holy One.  These failings help me to realize how spiritually poor I really am.  There is nothing more for me to do but trust in the unconditional love of God that Jesus came on this earth to proclaim.  

Years ago, standing at the bedside of a young man who was dying, I was surprised when he looked into my eyes and said, “Father Mike, I am ready to go now!  What more must I do?”   My only response was what I had learned myself.  There is nothing more to do but wait and to believe and trust you are loved by God unconditionally and beyond what you can ever imagine.  He smiled at me and closed his eyes.  Accepting and believing we are unconditionally loved by God is the way into the kingdom of God.  When Jesus began his service to the people of Galilee his opening words were, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe!”  (Mark 1:15)  We need to repent of the arrogance that is behind our need to try and save ourselves.

When we are free from this arrogance and find ourselves trusting in God’s love for us, we learn to love and accept ourselves with all our shortcomings.  We can only truly love others when we know in the deepest part of our being that we are loved unconditionally.  This is what frees us to love all our brothers and sisters with the same love we have received from God.   All wrong doing is rooted in a lack of love for ourselves and others.  It is unconditional love that is the entrance into the kingdom of God for which we all long.  The stories I have heard and the obituary of my boyhood friend who died yesterday indicated that he had learned the lessons of love.

 There is no man on earth so just as to do good and never sin.  Do not give heed to every word that is spoken…….Know in your heart that you have many times spoken ill of others..

(Ecclesiastes 7:20-22)

Posted by: mmreflections | October 15, 2011

Mission Accomplished! October 2011

Father, the hour has come.  I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work you gave me to do.  Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.  I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.  Now I am coming to you.  (Confer John 17:1-13)

Serving my country in the army was a great initiation preparing me for life’s continuing journey.  It was during these years I learned about service, love of country, courage, cooperation, acceptance of others and trust in God.  Prior to this I had been taught many lessons by my mom, brothers, sisters, friends and teachers.  Applying all these lessons became a serious challenge once I realized I was not the center of the world but was part of something much bigger and greater.  Physical endurance, perseverance, discipline and concern for others opened my eyes to aspects of my personality I had never recognized before this time.  At the moment I did not realize I was being prepared for the dark nights that awaited me on my journey.

In some ways it was like the initiation of a young Indian boy in the early Native American culture.  Each tribe had an interesting way of training their young braves for assuming their roles in the community.  On the night of a young boy’s thirteenth birthday, after he had been taught many lessons about hunting, fishing, courage, patience and service, he would be led out into the darkest part of a forest where he was to spend the night alone to confront his fears and demons.  He was left in a place so dense that not even the moonlight could pierce through the darkness.  Every sound of the forest struck terror in the heart of the young boy.  What wild animal lurked nearby?  All night he would wait for the first signs of dawn.  One minute seemed like an hour.  But then the first light broke through  enabling him to see what was around him.  Trees, flowers, low bushes appeared.  Lo and behold!  To his great surprise and joy he saw his father standing nearby, holding a bow and arrow.  What a joyful moment it must have been for the young brave as he ran to his father’s arms crying out,  “I did it!  I passed the test!  I completed the work I was called to do!  I am coming home with you now!”

Each of us has a purpose for being on this earth.  We have been given ample opportunities to discover and fulfill that purpose.  The Holy One has prepared us for our journey to fulfill this purpose by bringing many teachers and guides into our lives to teach us and help us.  They were the ones who planted the seeds of faith and love in our hearts.  These teachers, mentors, guides and other helpers were preparing us for the dark nights that would come into our lives.  With what courage would we be able to face the challenges that would come when everything seemed to be going wrong, when the fears seemed to be overwhelming?  What would we do when our very faith is being questioned?  This will be determined by how well we embraced the lessons given us.  If we paid close attention and learned our lessons well there will be nothing to fear.  We will be able to pass the test and the Holy One who loves us will be there as we run to him at the dawn of the new day.

The young Indian brave who learned his preparatory lessons well was able to survive the dark night in the forest.  The young braves who treated their lessons carelessly or lightly most probably failed the test in the forest and would not be able to take their place among the warriors of the tribe.  They would never know the joy of seeing their fathers standing there and protecting them at the end of the long night.  They would not know the joy of running into their father’s arms saying, “I have passed the test!  I accomplished  the task  you gave me to fulfill!”

Jesus prepared for his coming ordeal right after his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  “On coming out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.  A voice came from the heavens saying, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'”  (Mark 1:9-11)  After this the Spirit drove him out into the desert where he was tempted and where he remained for forty days and nights.  His only companions were the wild beasts and angels.  His purpose for being on this earth was severely challenged.  Temptations to wealth, fame and power confronted him.  Was he to take the easy way out?  Or was he to embrace his true purpose and remain faithful to what his Father had sent him to fulfill?  Would he be able to pass the test?

In our society filled with so many distractions it has become a rarity to learn of people taking quiet time to examine their spiritual journeys.  Do we ever ask the question, “Am I paying attention to the lessons I have been taught or am learning?  What am I doing with them?”  Jesus told a parable which might give us a way of considering these questions.  It is the story of the farmer who went out to sow his seed.  The seeds are the lessons we are called to learn.  The question for us to examine is, “What kind of soil am I when it comes to lessons I am being taught?”  Am I like the pathway; do I hear the lessons but refuse to believe they are important?  Am I rocky ground with no moisture;  I see the lessons as important for a short while but soon forget them?  Am I the soil among thorns;  I learn the lessons and realize their importance but anxieties, riches and pleasures of life take precedence?  Am I rich soil; a wise person who, when taught a lesson, embraces it with a generous and good heart? (Confer Luke 8:4-15)  These questions will give us an answer as to how we will brave the dark nights that await all of us on our journeys.

The dark nights will eventually come to a close and we can be sure there will be many of  them on our life’s journeys.  Ultimately we will all come to the darkest night, the one none of us can escape, the last moment of our lives.  How will the last dark night of our life on this earth come to a close?  There will be no more lessons to learn, no loved ones to save us, no doctors to heal us.  Will it be like the young Indian brave who after the dark night joyfully saw his father standing nearby protecting him?  Will it be like the negligent father who was dying and was approached by his young son who asked him, “Daddy, are you afraid to die?”  His father responded, “Son, I am not afraid to die but I am so ashamed.”  Or will it be a joyful moment when we see our heavenly Father face to face for the first time and are able to say, ”  “Daddy, I completed the task you gave me to do.  I am coming home.”

Thus says the Lord who formed you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.  When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown.  When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One.”  (Isaiah 43:1-3)

                  

Posted by: mmreflections | September 15, 2011

Catching My First Fish! September 2011

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”  (Matthew 18:1-5)

Our God, the Holy One, is full of surprises!  These delights unfold quite unexpectedly in ways we had never imagined.  Such an event occurred earlier for me this month when I accepted the invitation of three of my nephews and their wives to join them for an extended weekend up north at a vacation home on a beautiful lake in central Wisconsin.  The invitation came with a clear understanding that I was not being asked to do any work but to just come and relax with them.  The idea that these younger family members just wanted this old uncle to be in their company was a blessing.  From the moment we gathered together, I experienced a lightness of being.  I no longer saw myself as a much older man.  In fact, many of the ordinary aches and pains seemed to have disappeared.  Unable to use my cell phone in this geographic area, no longer preoccupied with television news reports and newspapers, I was free to relax and enjoy the pristine, secluded, peaceful, awesome beauty of the Creator’s handiwork.  I was able to enjoy the love and company of my nephews and their wives.  I seemed to have gone back to my boyhood days when I wandered about the hillsides near where I grew up.  It seemed I was a little child again enjoying the gifts of the One who loved me unconditionally.

Often during my adult years I wondered what it would have been like to have had my Dad around when I was a little boy growing up.  I was only two years old when he died.  Would he have taught me how to play ball?  Would he have taken me fishing?  Would he have ever told me how proud he was of me?  Not having an answer to these questions often left me feeling sad.  During these recent days at the lake, it seemed like all these questions were answered by my nephews and their wives.  I felt like a little boy again when one of my nephews put a fishing rod into my hands, showed me how to grip the rod, cast the line and bring in a fish.  Another nephew showed me how to use a popper and using fish worms for bait, while another taught me how to use different fishing lures.  No one had ever taught me how to fish before this moment.  Here I was a 77 year old man really fishing for the first time.  Then I caught my first fish, not a very big one but it was an exciting moment.  Cheers went up!  I could not have felt greater delight at that moment as I held up the first fish I ever  caught.  Then I released him back into the water as everyone else was doing.   We were fishing for the sport of it only.  Later when out on one of the boats I was able to real in a bigger one which was even more exciting. In the hours and days that followed many of my other questions would have been realized.  I had a sense of what it would have been like!  These days turned out to be one of the more special gifts ever coming my way.

During the past few months I have found myself reflecting on the words of Jesus, “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Observing little children at play helps me to understand why Jesus would have taught this lesson to his disciples.  There are so many concerns bombarding our society today.  Terror, prejudice, wars, economy, politics, unemployment, health issues seem to be creating an overwhelming atmosphere of fear in the lives of so many.  Shadow sides of our churches, government and other institutions cause us great discomfort. We can easily become saturated with these issues compounded by our own failures, mistakes and personal concerns.  It is easy to be overcome by all this.  It might be wise to take a break from all these concerns and just observe little children around us.

Listen to and observe these little ones squealing with delight at the tiniest situation or incident.  One little child fearlessly scooping up a little beetle creeping along the ground, another little child with arms around a friend who has fallen and is crying, a little boy whooping and screaming as he comes down a slide, two little ones making up soon after an argument, a child kneeling in prayer before climbing into bed, other children dancing at the first sound of music, little ones eating ice cream with much of it all over their faces, others playing in a mud puddle, all trusting in the unconditional love of their fathers and mothers.  For the little children all is well and all will be well.

What happens to us as we leave these childhood days behind? What prompts judgments, prejudice, resentments, mistrust, hatred, fear, self-loathing, inability to forgive or to receive forgiveness?  It seems we forget that we are each forever loved unconditionally by the Holy One, the Creator of the universe who called us forth out of nothingness into being even before we were conceived in our mother’s wound.  Jesus reminds us that we are all forever little children of God who by the power of the Holy Spirit can call God, “Abba” which in the language Jesus would have spoken means, “Daddy”.  Not one of us is without our “Daddy” no matter where the paths of our lives have taken us.  We may have messed up terribly, making many mistakes, failing to live as the persons we were created to be, masking our faces so that others would not see who we really are, trying harder and harder to be perfect that we might earn the love for which we so long.  In the midst of all this darkness, there is the gentle voice of Jesus reminding us we are loved and have a purpose for being here on this earth.  “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Since it is so easy to forget how much we are loved by our Abba, our Daddy, our God, we all need to be reminded of this truth again and again by the people in our lives.  We also need to remember that we are all called to remind those around of this important truth.  We do not have to preach to our friends and families, we need to live  out this truth in our lives as we reach out to one and other in love.  There are many around us who appear afraid, angry and troubled.  They do not need our judgments and criticisms; they need our love.  God is love and wherever there is love, there is God.  A strange thing happens whenever we are loved unconditionally by another person; we experience once again childlike moments of innocence and joy.  We find ourselves free once again to love others without any strings attached.  We find ourselves in the kingdom of heaven here and now.

This is the experience I had this month as I fished, boated on the lake, laughed, enjoyed food without concern about calories, loved and allowed myself to be loved, enjoyed all of God’s creation and the company of family.   I had these childlike moments that I had been missing for a long time.  When Jesus called his disciples to become as the child who stood before them, the world around them was much like our own with much of the same shadows and problems we are encountering. It was a reminder for me that no matter what is happening in the world around us, all is still well and all will be well.  We are loved.  Let’s go fishing!

Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.  Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.  Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.  (Cfr. 1John:3:18; 4:7-12)

Posted by: mmreflections | August 17, 2011

Reunions! August 2011

August has been quite a month!  I had the joy of celebrating the 60th year anniversary reunion with my high school graduation class on the first Saturday of this month, followed by our family reunion the following day.  Both reunions were filled with shared memories, much laughter and great joy in being together with friends and family once again.

 At our high school reunion, one of the great delights was to be together once again with those classmates with whom I had attended school since first grade.  The other joy was to be back together again with best friends from high school days.  One of those friends continues to remind me of the day we played hooky from school and got caught.  He often tells his children about this day we played hooky and got caught.  Then he seems delighted to be able to go on to blame it all on me, his  friend who is now a priest.  Some classmates reminded me of the many other high school indiscretions which were part of our growing up days.  It was all in a spirit of love and friendship as we recognized and honored one another for the many accomplishments over the years since we left school.  We shared happy memories and sadness at the loss of friends and classmates who are no longer with us but have gone to their eternal reward.   The reality of our own impending departure became apparent as we said our goodbyes, not knowing if we would see each again.

The following day was filled with joy as four generations of our family gathered at the parish church where all of my generation was baptized.  Along with 100 family members were high school classmates who were in town for our high school reunion as well as the members of the parish who remembered our family and came to pray with us.  This was the church where my brothers and sisters were married and their children were baptized and some of them were also married and some of their children were also baptized.  This church was a most significant part of our lives.  Memories and nostalgia overflowed as we celebrated the Liturgy with praises to God for all the blessings we had received and for this opportunity to be together once again.  Before we left the church we gathered as a family for a memorial service to honor our grandparents, parents and other members who have passed from this life to the next.

Then we partied!  Good food, wine and fellowship followed as we gathered for our reunion banquet.  The caterer prepared a wonderful home style dinner with more than enough food for everyone.  I struggled to figure out which of the little children were great nieces and nephews or great-great nieces and nephews.  Cousins were overjoyed to know they had so many other cousins who arrived from near and far.  I sat there in awe as I witnessed all that was going on around us.  I realized what a blessing it is to see our children and grandchildren down to the second and third generations.  The now generation, my brothers and sisters and their spouses, have been slowing down in recent years.  They are all in their eighties,  the oldest living brother is ninety years old.  Our generation is passing away but the upcoming generations look promising.  Our mom and dad must also be witnessing from God’s Kingdom all that has come about from the children they brought into this world.

All things come to a close and the happy reunion days have passed, leaving only memories.  Saying our goodbyes was difficult.  Departures have always been difficult for me.  There have been so many!  As we parted, waving our tearful last goodbyes, many of us realized that we may not see each other again.   Still we hoped for a future reunion!  Whenever I feel a growing sadness at this realization, I am reminded of the prophetic words on the last pages of the Bible where the prophet deals with such closures: 

 “I saw new heavens and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no longer.  I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city coming down out heaven from God, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband.  I heard a loud voice from the throne cry out:  ‘This is God’s dwelling among men.  He shall dwell with them and they shall be his people and he shall be their God who is always with them.  He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.'”  (Revelation 21:1-4)

Reunions help us to remember that we are all a part of something much greater than we realize.  In our current society we can very easily forget this truth and become self-preoccupied, self-centered and selfish.  Family life is where we first learn that we are not alone, that we are not the center of our world and that we have a responsibility of caring for others as well as ourselves.  When we leave our families of origin and begin new families of our own, we grow together and help make our world a better place.  This is where we are prepared to take our places in a larger community, the society beyond our original families.  In this larger community we manifest our concerns for others and realize we have a  responsibility to all people of every race, color, creed, orientation or character.  This is where we fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.   But in a life apart from community we can easily forget our purpose for being on this earth.   Much of the sadness and depression and despair we witness in so many places is the result of this forgetfulness.

While attending these reunions this month I could not help but observe the overflowing joy, confidence and positive outlooks in many of my classmates and family members.  In listening to some of the discussions I came to realize that among the happiest people I met were those who were involved in helping professions or those who were reaching out to others in every way they could and not just centered on themselves.  Among my happiest classmates were those who were retired but excited about still being able to volunteer their talents to help others.  This was quite apparent as well with my nieces and nephews who were involved in similar ways, using their gifts and talents for the benefit of others at great sacrifice to themselves.  Where did they learn to do this?  I am convinced they discovered this secret to happiness in their own families, among their own siblings, among the good friends with whom they grew up.

I do not believe we need have great talents or an abundance of material treasures to be of help or service to others.  What we need are hearts filled with the desire to serve others, hearts filled with the desire to make our world a better place, hearts filled with the desire to fill our primary purpose for being on this earth:  to manifest God’s presence in this world and to be good stewards.  All creation is calling out to us!  We can only hear the cry if our hearts are open and we remember we are a small but important and unique part of the beautiful creation that surrounds us.

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and power are his.  He causes the changes of the times and season, makes kings and unmakes them.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who understand.  He reveals deep and hidden things and knows what is in the darkness, for the light dwells with him.  To you, O God of our fathers, we give thanks and praise. (Daniel 2:20-23)

Posted by: mmreflections | July 21, 2011

Loaded With Gifts! July 2010

What might a person say if I were to announce that our current times are loaded with gifts?  Recent weeks seem to have been dominated by friends and readers calling to tell me of major problems in their life situations.  Sad news came from one family regarding their young father who had recently been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  Their world seems to be turned upside down as they struggle to get their bearings after hearing the prognosis and questioning what the future holds.  Another young father has been terminated from the position with a company for which he had worked for many years leaving him despondent after going out each day seeking unsuccessfully to find employment.  Concerns for his wife and children, a serious loss of self-esteem and mounting unpaid bills cause him to question his faith.  Many have indicated they are no longer able to watch or listen to news on radio or TV as the media bombards the nation with fears of possible economic disaster.  Fears mount, anxieties increase, doubts arise, questions go unanswered and most feel powerless.  Worst case scenarios are being placed before us.  Floods, famine, earthquakes, heat waves, terrorists attacks, tragedies of all sorts are unfolding around us.

If we were to stop and reflect silently for a time it might become apparent that these are the very conditions which bring out the deepest shadows in us or the very best aspects of our character.  These are the challenges that help us to discover who we really are and what we really believe.  We do not attain maturity and the very best that is in us when all is going well and according to our liking.  In reflecting upon my own journey of seventy-seven years I must admit that moments of my life that appeared to be the darkest were the moments that led to my becoming more confident, productive and creative.

One such moment unfolded when serving in the army during the Korean conflict.  The training period, referred to as Boot Camp, was demanding and quite unlike anything I had previously experienced.  Having graduated from college and teaching school before being drafted in no way prepared me for what was about to unfold.  Early rising in the morning, long marches with full back packs on hot summer days, getting back to the barracks late in the day, exhausted with personal chores still awaiting me prior to getting showered and gratefully collapsing on my bunk was what unfolded day after day.  It was during this time our platoon was placed under the charge of a pin stripped corporal who had only recently returned from Korea.  He was merciless and disrespectful to all the men placed in his charge.  After exhausting days in the field  we would return to the barracks and subjected to this soldier’s regaling us with his war stories of horrific and sadistic exploits while in the war zones.  He would force all of us to listen to him as he went on and on for hours until it was time for lights out.  Many were discouraged while others were determined not to let this man break us.  Because of a minor infraction after one of these sessions, he demanded that all of us get out of the barracks just as we were and fall into formation out on the compound.  Some who were taking showers had to get outside with only a towel wrapped around their waists, others came out only in undershorts and bare feet.  The night air was cold and damp; the ground muddy from a slow drizzle of rain.  He demanded we all start doing pushups on the soggy ground.  He was so engrossed in disciplining all of us for one man’s infraction that he never noticed the military police approaching and shining spotlights on us.  The police ordered all of us back into the barracks and most of us thought this was the end of the matter.

Needless to say, many of us were discouraged and felt hopeless at the thought of the many weeks of boot camp ahead of us.  When we returned from the field the next day our pin stripped corporal was nowhere to be seen.  We were to discover later that he had been placed under military arrest for his abuse of authority.  A newly graduated lieutenant from West Point was now placed in charge of our platoon.  A true leader, he manifested great respect for all of us and soon we were an outstanding platoon.  As a result of our ordeal we discovered new aspects of courage and determination we didn’t realize we had.  The gifts realized from those dark nights were to remain with me for the remainder of my time in the military and for the many challenges which still awaited me.

The problems in our society and in the world are challenging us right now.  We can give into despair and frustration, feeling powerless over the issues and fears confronting us or we can remain hopeful, believing in the promise that the Holy One in whom we trust will draw good out of all  things for those who remain faithful.  Indeed, there are gifts to be realized in the midst of the ordeals we are now facing.  One of the greatest gifts awaiting us in all this is the discovery of the truth about ourselves.  When all is going well, we can easily slip into the illusion of being some really great and perfect person.  However, when the chips are down and all seems to be falling apart in our life situations we discover aspects of ourselves or shadows that we have been unwilling to acknowledge.  These shadows manifest themselves in our fears,  worries, anxieties, frustrations, anger, bitterness and resentment which are reflected in how we treat others.

In the midst of the crises that arise in our  life situations we are called to stop and take some deep breathes, asking ourselves what we can do to make things better.  Looking realistically about our situations, we are called to accept with peace those things over which we have no control and which we cannot change.  At the same time it is important to review the possibilities and to courageously change the situations we can change while praying for the wisdom to recognize the difference.

A great peace comes from living one day at a time.  Many of us are overwhelmed because we are living tomorrow’s and next week’s challenges along with today’s.  My military experience reminds me of how discouraged I had become by thinking of the weeks ahead of me instead of taking matters one day at a time.  We would all prefer to live our days without hardships but that is not realistic.  Hardships are great gifts and accepting them as a part of life makes them pathways to greater peace and joy.  Many of us are looking for Utopia, that is, a perfect world with true leaders who reach out and  nurture their people who strive to live in harmony with each other.  A wonderful gift awaits us when we can accept this suffering and troubled world with loving concern as it is and not as we would have it.  This is what Jesus taught us to do as he walked the world of his day with loving concern.

What many of us are lacking at this time is trust!  Our trust in the many institutions of our society has been severely challenged.  In whom are we to trust?  Those of us who believe in a power greater than ourselves, a power greater than our human society are at an advantage.  We can do all we can to create a better society but our trust is in the Holy One who promises to  make all things right for those who place their trust in him.  Herein is found the ultimate gift.  

God, you have taught me from my youth; to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.  Now that I am old and gray, do not forsake me, God, that I may proclaim your might to all generations yet to come. (Psalms 71:17-18)

 

Posted by: mmreflections | June 10, 2011

Employment Opportunities! June 2011

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.  He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.  He walked along and saw two other brothers, James and John, in a boat with their father, mending nets.  He called them and they immediately left their boat and their father and followed Jesus.  (Cfr. Matthew 4:18-22)

It happened one evening at the close of a major parish celebration.  A group of us were sitting around enjoying some quiet moments after all the guests had departed and the clean-up was completed.  Within the group was an executive officer from General Motors, a very attractive, well-dressed, elegant lady who could have been a model for a designer clothing line, other notable professionals serving in different fields, along with some of the other hard working volunteers from the parish. Everyone present was active in the parish and deeply committed to a Christian life-style.  Most of them could have boasted about their notable accomplishments.  Some questions arose regarding the successes achieved by those in this little group of volunteers and why they were so committed to our parish community.  From where did their strong faith in God arise?  To my surprise the conversations moved from current achievements to beginnings.  How had they come so far on their life’s journeys?  How did it all begin?

The officer from GM opened up telling a story about growing up in a poor Michigan family during the roughest times of the great depression:

“I was asked by my teacher to be in the annual Christmas pageant that our school put on each year for the parents and local community.  I was really excited about playing a part in this important event. The time had come and we were having our last rehearsal before the big night.  I quietly stood on the stage in my big boots and tattered trousers as we received our final instructions.  The teacher reminded us to wear our nicest Sunday clothes for the pageant.  I sadly and quietly whispered to the teacher that these were my very best clothes.  She put her arms around me, calling me by name, reassuring me that it would be just fine for me to appear with the clothes I wore.  The big night arrived and I walked onto the stage in my big boots and tattered trousers.  No one laughed at me!  No one criticized!  I learned a great lesson about self-confidence from that good teacher and from that moment I walked on the stage.  I think it propelled me into being the best person I could be with God’s help. I had a desire to do for others what this teacher did for me.  My faith has been strengthened by the what God has done for me.”

When he had finished speaking, there was a respectful silence broken by the perfectly dressed lovely lady in the circle.  She smiled as she related the foundations for her professional success:

“The depression years were really tough on our family.  We had so little.  I, too,  had to go to school in shabby clothes, mostly hand-me downs.  My undergarments were made from flour sacks.  If I were to bend down and the back of my drawers were visible, spectators would have seen the brand of flour my mom used:  “King Midas Flour”.  Strangely enough, these humble beginnings only motivated me to be the best I could be with what I had.  My brothers and sisters were constantly reminded that good things were coming our way as long as we held on to our faith in God and in what Jesus could do for us if we were faithful.  I am where I am because of my faith in God and because of the strength I received from those who loved me.  I decided I wanted to help others to be the best they could be with what they had.”

It turned out to be a long evening as we sat around and shared our humble beginnings.  The stories shared that night without shame or hesitation were an inspiration for all of us and it strengthened our relationship with each other as we worked together building a parish community.  There were stories about mistakes, failures heart-break, hunger, abuse, humiliations and other wounds that developed character.  A recurring theme seemed to be a sense of being called by the Lord to follow his way and let him draw good out of all that had happened so far on our journeys.  It appeared that all of us found ourselves eager to do some good for others in spite of our personal challenges, weaknesses and humble beginnings.

I found myself describing those same years when as a little boy I would go out to the dump and pick the little shiny black coals from the ashes.  My little job was to fill the bucket beside the kitchen coal stove.  My older brothers would take a wagon and walk along the railroad tracks filling up potato sacks with the coal that had fallen from the trains carrying the coal.  They would fill the coal bin in the basement to provide for the winter months.  I recalled my own shabby clothes, the holes in my shoes covered over by pieces of cardboard.  In the midst of it all, during those late depression years, there was in my family an abiding faith in God who would someday make all things right. 

The refrains from the Psalmist come to mind:

 “The needy will never be forgotten nor will the hope of the afflicted ever fade.”  (Psalm 9:19)

 “You listen, Lord, to the needs of the poor; you encourage them and hear their prayers.  You win justice for the orphaned and oppressed…”  (Psalm 10:17-18) 

“You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.  With my whole being I sing endless praise to you.  O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”  (Psalm 30:12-13)
“I waited, waited for the Lord who bent down and heard my cry.  He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp, set my feet upon rock, steadied my steps, and put a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God.  Many shall look on in awe and they shall trust in the Lord.  Happy those whose trust is the Lord.”  (Psalm 40: 2-5)

We might discover the golden nuggets in these stories if we go back to that moment when Jesus called his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John.  This was not the first time he saw these men or talked to them.  No doubt they had already listened to him, but in this moment they were challenged to join Jesus in his mission to make the world a better place.  We should note what kind of men they were.  They were not great scholars or philosophers, not great religious leaders, not men of influence or wealth or high social standing.  They were simple working men with no great background who most people would have concluded had no great future.  These were ordinary men whom Jesus called to follow him.  What is needed today are men and women who are willing to allow God to use them in accomplishing his purpose.

We are experiencing tough times in our society at this moment in history.  Uncertainty has touched the lives of most of us.  Our leaders, in many instances, have been a great disappointment.  It is quite difficult to avoid being bombarded by fears if we watch the news or are in any quality conversations with friends.  In these challenging times we need to remember we are all called by God to do our part in building a better society.  It is the Lord who will accomplish through us what needs to be done if we are willing to commit our lives to the Lord’s work even as those first fishermen did.  We are called just as we are with all our faults and failings.  There is something each one of us can accomplish if we are willing to be instruments of God’s love.  Tough times can truly be a blessing in helping us to become the men and women we were created to be.  Are we willing to truly commit our lives to the Lord and to do whatever we can to make our world a little better, a little happier, a little more secure?  Job openings are readily available to all ages, with all experiences, all backgrounds, all mistakes and failure.

Remain in me, as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine,   so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Posted by: mmreflections | May 10, 2011

Childhood Memories! May 2011

“Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, ‘We have guests.  Quick, three seahs (about half a bushel) of fine flour!  Knead it and make rolls.’  He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.  Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the guests; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.”  (Confer Genesis 18:1-8)

Recently confronted with a question about childhood memories, what kept coming to my mind always seemed to be related to meals with family and friends.  Foremost among those memories were the evening meals we shared as a family, with all of us sitting around the big round oak table in our kitchen.  Our mom always made sure we had a nice hot meal together at the close of the day.  With my dad having died when I was only two years old, our mom had her hands full trying to keep our family of nine children together.  We were considered a poor family!  (I find myself questioning that assumption now that I am in my golden years.)  You see we had to eat things like homemade bread, fresh vegetables from the garden in the summer months, home canned vegetables during the winter months, home baked pastries and pastas, with very little store bought foods.  Once in a long while we had a special treat (?) store bought bread when we ran out of home baked bread before baking day.  At those meals I remember the chatter around the table as my  older siblings talked about the events of their day.

Among those memories were the Sundays when guests arrived, often unexpectedly.  Our mom made sure there would be some food for them for it would be rude not to serve guests something special if they had taken time to come and visit.  Not to serve guests some food would be a breach of hospitality and a sure sign they were not welcome.  These times are among the happiest memories of childhood.  If joy, peace, love, generosity and hospitality are gifts reflecting the Spirit of God, it seems to me that the Almighty One was present with us in those special moments.

As I continue to consider those happy childhood experiences around the table and food, stories from the Bible coming to mind also center around the table and hospitality.  Abraham and Sarah found themselves entertaining angels when they invited unexpected visitors to rest awhile with them and share some of their food.  Before they departed one of the visitors said to Abraham, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” (Genesis 18:10)  We know this promise came true.

Jesus would often describe the Kingdom of God as a banquet to which many of the prosperous and important people were invited but declined to attend.  As a result the poor and disenfranchised, the lowly and rejected, the sinners and misfits were invited and they accepted.  These were the ones who experienced the joy, the peace, the love and the hospitality of the Holy One.  It was often at dinner tables to which Jesus had been invited that miracles took place, special blessings were received, conversions took place, people were healed and many learned about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who was loving, benevolent and forgiving.

Jesus gathered his chosen disciples together to share a meal with him on the night before he went to his death, the night of his last supper, his last Passover meal. He taught them an important lesson as he washed their feet and reminded them to do what he was doing in the days that would follow after he was gone.  While  they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to them.  He took the chalice of wine, gave thanks and gave it to them.  He reminded them to do this in remembrance of his presence with them.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.'”  (Matthew 26:26-30)

After Jesus’ death two disciples were on their way to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus and they were talking about all that had occurred in the past few days.  A man drew near to them and asked what they were talking about.  As they approached the village where they lived, they invited this fellow traveler to stay with them for it was nearing nightfall.  So he went to stay with them.  It happened that, while he was with them at the dinner table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.  With that the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus.  (Confer Luke 24:13-35)

Why are there so many other incidents recorded in the Scriptures which describe blessings associated with meals?  Why has it become customary to celebrate important events in our lives with special dinners?  Quickly coming to mind are blessings and joys experienced at dinners following the baptism of children, the happiness at a wedding banquet to celebrate the joy of newly-weds, and even the blessings unfolding at dinners following the death and burial of loved ones.  I often recall the special celebration and dinner following my ordination to the priesthood and my first solemn Divine Liturgy which was the embarkation point for the 48 years of priestly ministry which were to follow.  When asked to describe childhood memories I guess the best description would be that when happy we gathered together around the table and shared food;  when sad, we gathered together around the table and shared food; whenever anything special occurred, we gathered around the table and shared food; when guests arrived, we gathered around the table and shared food.  These were times of blessing.  They are still times of blessing.  Periodically a couple of long time friends from my former parish meet for a long lunch when we bring each other up to date on what is happening in our lives.  When we part company after a few hours of eating and sharing, I come home feeling blessed and energized for what lies ahead. Extended dinners and conversations with friends even now prove to be special blessings for us.  The blessings of these meals are reflected in how we feel when we are back home and how affectively we are able to fulfill our responsibilities afterwards. 

Many are so busy with responsibilities of daily life today that a quick stop at a fast food restaurant becomes their only experience of having a meal.  Some only eat before a TV set or a computer.  Some have their meal while driving, a hazard to themselves and others.   Perhaps it is time for us to become old-fashioned and to gather more often around the table of blessing where we share food, laughter and a little bit of our lives.  We need to make our meals a sacrament once again, a sign of God’s presence and abundance.  The simple gesture of lighting a candle at the dinner table can be a reminder of the sacredness of this moment.  We need not wait for a special occasion; every day is special and every meal is a blessing if we remember to make it one.

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.  Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to them.  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, Do you love me more than these?’  Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  (John 21:12-15)

Posted by: mmreflections | April 9, 2011

Vigilant and Faithful Servants! April 2011

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  You also must be prepared for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Confer Luke 12:35-40)

At some point in our lives many of us question the value of our life, our vocation and purpose for being on this earth.  We are tempted to view external circumstances and to view our lives and efforts as meaningless.  In my very first assignment after ordination, when the glow of ordination had passed and I was caught up in the ordinary demands required of an assistant pastor, I found myself in just this mode: questioning my decision to become a priest.  My idealism as to what I might accomplish was diminishing as routine demands took over my life.  My focus was all about what I had to do with the talents and gifts God had given me.  I had still not learned what it was to be an instrument in God’s hands.

It was with this dark cloud over my head that one evening I went to visit a priest friend in a nearby parish to talk about the discouragement and disillusionment bombarding me.  It was getting dark outside as I said goodbye to my friend and headed back to the rectory still feeling depressed and sad.  I chose not to take the shortest way home on the freeway but the longest way home on the surface roads.  A few miles down the road, as I approached a major freeway intersection, I was met with flashing red lights, police cars and a serious accident.  I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car and walked over to a police officer to ask if there was something I could do.   

There was a crowd of people gathering around the horrific scene, among them a man shouting he was a pastor and wanted to approach but was being held back by another officer.  When the police officer saw me and recognized I was a priest he quickly took me over to the panic stricken victim who was laying beside the overturned vehicle. I knelt down on the ground beside this young man who was still conscious but very seriously injured.  I took hold of his hand and asked if I could pray with him.  He pleaded with me to pray and to stay with him.  As we waited for an ambulance to arrive, he calmed down but refused to let go of me as though I was his life-line.  When the emergency crew arrived he still hung on to me as they placed him on  a stretcher and carried him to the ambulance.  He lapsed into unconsciousness just as I promised him I would come to the hospital to see him.

When the ambulance pulled away and I was walking back to the car the police officer stopped me and thanked me for helping to calm the injured young man down.  Something unusual unfolded as I drove away and headed on home.  The depression I had been experiencing just a little while earlier had lifted.  I saw the stars in the sky that I had not noticed for a long time.  I learned an important lesson that night which would sustain me for the rest of my life.  It is not what I do but what God does with me if I allow him to use me as his instrument.  Over the years I have recalled that lonely night especially when I find myself getting into a slump over my failures and forgetting I am only called to be a vigilant and faithful servant in God’s hands.

I visited that young man, who turned out to  be a great blessing for me, at the hospital many times after that accident.  He was very badly injured in the accident and would have to undergo major physical therapy after the casts were removed.  He related how he was responsible for the accident and all that had happened to him because  he had been speeding on the freeway and lost control of his car.  He also very sadly told me that no one other than myself ever came to visit him. I was eventually transferred to another parish and lost contact with him.  His life turned around as a result of what happened that night.  So did mine!

I don’t believe we need to be wearing priestly garb to be vigilant and faithful servants, instruments in God’s hands.  Opportunities are constantly presenting themselves for us to be the children he created us to be.  Just recently while shopping at Walmart an incident occurred at the check-out counter.  Not unusual for me I chose the shortest check-out line only to find that the person in front of me had a handful of coupons to help with his purchases.  Some coupons were outdated and there seemed to be a lengthy discussion over each one until he received every credit he could possibly get.  The process took a very long time and the check-out woman was obviously getting distressed as she struggled to remain calm and polite.  As my turn came her head was lowered and she did not greet me with the customary greeting.  I noticed her name tag and calling her by name I smiled and commented about how kind and patient she was in handling the previous customer.  She looked up at me, smiled and quickly went on to tell me how she had to constantly battle with panic attacks.  The recent, sudden and unexpected death of her father had stirred up this problem and she feared losing her job were this to happen at work.  I was not wearing any priestly garb and was surprised to see how easily she opened up to me simply because of a kind word.  As I gathered up my bags, she grabbed my hand to say thank you for what I had done for her.  Could this be how we become instruments in God’s hands?

Oftentimes we hear others put themselves down because they feel they have no talents or gifts.  This is a surefire way to get ourselves down in the dumps.  When we start feeling this way it is, more often than not, the result of thinking of ourselves as unimportant.  We fail to see how we could possibly be used for any good purpose.  We also view little things done for others as insignificant in the grand scale of life.   In this way we fail to be vigilant and faithful servants.

There is another side of the coin.  Some feel  they are so talented and gifted that their only purpose is to do great things in the eyes of others.  When their good works are not noticed,  they become discouraged and troubled.  Often they are unwilling to do the little things that count the most and are insensitive to the needs of others, thus failing to be the vigilant and faithful servants who could be wonderful instruments in God’s hands.

When Jesus tells the story of a man who fell victim to robbers who beat him and went off leaving him half dead, he gives us as example of a vigilant and faithful servant.  A priest goes by and sees the man laying there but  he passes by on the other side of the road.  The priest is a talented and gifted person who should have known better. However, he was obviously not paying attention to the needs of someone who was suffering.  On the other hand a man who is not highly regarded by others comes along and is moved with compassion.  He is paying attention.  He approaches the victim, tends to his wounds, takes care of him in every way possible before leaving him in the hands of others who will continue to care for him. (Luke 10:29-39)  We are told to “go and do likewise.”  If we are vigilant and faithful we will also be attentive to the opportunities that arise when we can be servants in little ways or greater ways.

 “Whoever brings sunshine into the life of another, will always have sunshine in their own lives.”

Posted by: mmreflections | March 12, 2011

Exam Time! March 2011

“Happy the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven.  Happy those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit.  As long as I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all the day.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat. Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide.  I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-5)

During my Junior year in college a spiritual retreat was scheduled for the students; one week for women, the second for men.  Much to my surprise, since not overly interested in a spiritual life at the time, I accepted the invitation to attend with a best friend.  The retreat facilitator was a priest from a nearby monastery. It was a week-long retreat on the life of Christ.  Something occurred on Friday evening which surprised me and was to leave an indelible mark upon my remaining days in college and, for that matter, the rest of my life.  The priest was talking about the passion of Christ:  the anguish he was experiencing at the realization of his impending death, the lack of concern from his closest friends, the betrayal, the mockery, the humiliation and finally his unbearable suffering and death.

As I listened to his words warm tears flowed down my cheeks, my nose was running and the fear of my friends seeing me crying was troubling.  I had never taken time to really imagine what Jesus must have gone through during his passion.  The silence in the chapel was intense!  Then Father Dan stopped speaking and everyone and everything became absolutely still, a stillness I have never forgotten.  I struggled to keep from crying out loud.  Thoughts of my own sins and failures had me relating to the closest friends of Jesus who had denied, betrayed and turned away from him when he needed them most.  The silence was broken when Father Dan looked out at us and said,  “I see all your tears and wet cheeks, I see you all  holding back your feelings.  But what good is it if tomorrow you forget what happened tonight and go right back to life as usual?”  With that comment the chapel silence was broken by a bunch of big tough guys and  little tough guys breaking down, crying and blowing their noses.  I was no longer alone with my emotions or my fears.

As we enter the season of Lent we are invited to not only reflect on the painful sufferings and death of Christ but are challenged to examine our own lives and to ask ourselves whether we are living as the sons and daughters whom our Creator intended for us be.  Are we fulfilling the true purpose for which we were created?

It was Socrates, years before the coming of Christ, who in his search for answers about the purpose of life itself concluded that the “unexamined life is not worth living.”  During this season of Lent we are called to examine our lives to discover the obstacles preventing us from being the children of God we were intended to be.  This is the time for us to allow the Spirit of God to expose and shatter the false gods we have consciously or unconsciously set up in our lives.  This is also time for us to get rid of the excess baggage we are carrying that is weighing us down.

Plato, the Greek philosopher who followed on teachings of Socrates, had his own description of the unexamined life.  He described people as prisoners taken into cells, bound up and forced to face a wall in front of them.  They saw nothing but shadows.  Behind them were their captors who with figures held up to the light created these shadows on the wall.  After long captivity, the prisoners began to see the shadows as reality.  When they were released from prison and came out into the bright light of day they were unable to distinguish reality from unreality.

Unfortunately, those who choose not to take time to examine their lives will soon find themselves living and believing in shadows of what is really true, just and valuable for them.  In my youth I dreamed about how great life will be when I finish grade school, middle school and high school.  What an illusion that was!  More illusions about life came one after another; there was my first job, going away to college and away from home, graduating from college, my first professional job, army days, seminary, ordination and priestly life.  As the years unfolded and with the deepest longings of my heart still remaining unfulfilled, it became necessary or, better still, imperative to examine my life more closely and distinguish reality from unreality.

This time of Lent is a great opportunity to take this challenge of examining our lives more seriously.  I must smile at the many years when I decided to take the time of the Great Fast more seriously.  “This year I am going to stop eating candy for Lent!”  If I made it through Lent without eating even a tiny bit of candy, I felt proud of myself; I really observed this time well.  I blush at the thought.  The prophet, Isaiah, had much to say about our fasts: 

“Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer.  You shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am!'” (Isaiah 58:5-9)

How do we begin to enter into this time of examination and prayer more seriously and more earnestly?  I have discovered a way that is really easy in some ways but also quite difficult.  Silence!  Silence!  Silence!  Stillness!  Stillness!  Stillness!  There is so much noise all around us!  A friend of mine recently said to me, “I can no longer stand the noise in my home.”  There is a radio playing at all times in the kitchen and other rooms, the television is on continuously and no one is watching, at the office my coworkers seem to be talking endlessly, people on cell phones while I am eating lunch seem oblivious to the discomfort they are causing others.  I go to a nearby park  just to regain some sanity before returning to my office.

The  most significant impact on my own spiritual journey came about when I learned to sit quietly away from the maddening crowd, away from news, books, music, phones and other people.  At first it was difficult because all the concerns and distractions of life would bombard me during these quiet times. I persisted, however, struggling to be still and wrestling with the bombardments.  It seems there was some invisible force blocking my efforts. Soon fifteen minutes of silence became twenty minutes of silence.  Distractions diminished and I found the stillness to be a blessing.  When I returned to ordinary duties something was different.  I felt more peaceful and happy.  Problems confronting me for years vanished.  A light came on and I saw things about my life that were unproductive and obstructing me from doing what I felt called to do or to be.

In our distraction filled society it would be worth considering how we can make the necessary sacrifices to make this time of fasting more profitable by giving up noise and embracing silence and stillness for a period of time each day.  Let’s call it exam time with the Lord.

 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the water I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown.  When you walk through fire you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy one of Israel, your savior..”  (Isaiah 43:1-3)

Posted by: mmreflections | February 14, 2011

Be My Valentine! February 2011

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…..  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

On this Valentine’s Day memories of grade school come to mind as I recall the Valentine Box which our teacher brought to our classroom early in the month of February.  All decorated with hearts, it was placed on a special table in the room for all to see.  Each day some of the children would drop some valentines into the opening on top of the box.  Each day I wondered if anyone would put a card in the box for me.  Would anyone ask me to be their valentine?  I had saved up a few cents so I could buy valentines to put into the box for some of my classmates. Up until the special day when we had a little party and all the valentines were distributed I found myself feeling some apprehension.  What if no one sent me a valentine?  As the box was opened and the cards passed out I recall how the cards piled up on the desks of the popular children.  The boys who were usually the best athletes seemed to end up with a big stack of valentines.  The pretty and popular girls also seemed to end up with a big stack of valentines.  The teacher seemed to end up with the most.  Sadly some of the children received very few cards and their feelings were quite apparent as they sat and waited for at least one card.

The greatest longing in our hearts, whether we admit it or not, is to love and to be loved.  Perhaps this is why Jesus taught us that love was the greatest and most important of all the commandments.  We all long to be someone’s valentine!  We all long to have someone for our valentine!  Deep in our hearts there is a little child asking the question, “Will you be the one who will love me?”  As we grow older perhaps the question becomes, “Will you let me be the one who loves you?”

Many of us live with the fear of being unloved or unlovable because of all our mistakes, failures, shadows, weaknesses, and other shortcomings.  Our society seems to proclaim loud and clear every day the many ways to gain this love for which we all long.  Become more attractive and you will be loved!  Join the gym and get into perfect shape and you will have many lovers!  Go on this diet and lose all your excess weight and you will receive many valentines!  Make a lot of money, get rich and you will have an abundance of friends.  Do what you must do to become famous and you will be loved by all!  The list goes on and on!  Many have followed these suggestions only to discover that what was gained was not really love but only an imitation.  It was only superficial.  When the beauty was gone, when the perfect body lost its shape, when the perfect weight was lost, when the money dried up and the fame was gone……. so was the love.  Like  the little children who didn’t get many valentines we go home feeling very sad, asking the famous question, “Where is love?  Does it fall from skies above?  Will I ever find the one who loves me just as I am?”

All the violence in our society, the addictions confronting so many of our brothers and sisters, the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the distrust, the power struggles, the greed, the hatred  all are a reflection of  the enormous number of human beings who do not know what it is to be loved and to love.  I remember those moments in my own life when I was living with those feelings of being unloved.  Having been taught as a child that God would love me if I did all the right things and did no wrong, I found myself experiencing feelings of being unloved because of my failures and wrong doings.  Soon I found myself wearing a mask all the time.  Those around me saw only what I wanted them to see.  If they knew the “real me” they would not love me, just as God did not love me because I wasn’t living up to his/her expectations.  I was truly blessed because opportunities came to me to discover the truth about love.  As a young man while on a spiritual retreat and where I learned about God’s unconditional love, I found a friend with whom I was able to be open, sharing those aspects of my life hidden behind the  mask.  To my surprise I found someone who could  love me with all my excess baggage.  My relationship with God changed remarkably as I learned more about unconditional love.  My life’s journey took me in a completely different direction from the one toward which I had been moving which was the path of destruction.  I was determined to make this unconditional love known to as many as I could possibly reach.

A passage from the first letter of John made a great impact on my life.  “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.  Whoever is without love does not know God, for God  is love.  In this way the love of God was revealed to us:  God sent his only Son into the  world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God.  Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in  us.  (1 John 4:7-12)  This is the message we ought to have heard from the very beginning of our lives:  “We should love one another.”

A part of this challenge to love one another is the false notion that love demands great things, dramatic moments, profound expressions of love.  In reality the demands of love are quite simple.  True and unconditional love is not limited to one person as the idea of Valentine’s Day may seem to perpetuate.  The little children in school could have been encouraged to show a little act of kindness, of love to every classmate, not only to the stars.  What a great learning experience it would have been for all the children, even the unattractive ones, to receive a pile of cards from all their classmates.  I wonder how their lives may have been affected if they had received such gestures of kindness. I wonder how this would have influenced their adult lives when it comes to reaching out to others.

As we grow older we may make love more complicated than it need be. At many social events it is easy to observe how large numbers of people reach out to greet and chat with the more influential personalities while few will reach out to the ordinary people who are left in some corner with no one to greet them.  How nice it would be to take a moment to chat with them and in so doing let them know they are also important. We might even discover that more of our brothers and sisters will attend these functions if this would happen.  They may then be encouraged to also reach out to others rather than be waiting for someone to reach out to them.

 We don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to offer gestures of love.  A little unexpected note to a friend is a way of saying, “You are my valentine.  You are someone I care about!  I am thinking about you today.”  Any little act of kindness, a simple gesture, a phone call, a visit is a way of showing love to someone.  We could all make our world a happier place by sending these kinds of valentines all year round.  This is an easy way to fulfill our very purpose for being on this earth which is to manifest God’s kindness, goodness, beauty and love to others.

“I give you a new commandment:  love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

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